Jewish Journal

Ten Things I Did Right

by Susan Esther Barnes

July 31, 2013 | 1:00 am

My husband and I just got our Estate Planning documents done. By that I mean we each signed a Will regarding how we would like our assets distributed after our death, Power of Attorney documents in case we’re incapacitated and medical instructions saying to pull the plug if we’re brain dead.

Signing these three documents are the minimum a person should do in regard to pre-need planning. We also need to buy burial plots and leave instructions regarding the disposition of our remains. All of which brings up the question of an Ethical Will.

Many Jewish people write an Ethical Will for their kids. We don’t have kids, but I have two nieces. It would be cool if I could leave them with some wisdom when I go. Although, I have to admit, I don’t know whether it would do them any good. In my experience, most people learn from their own experiences, not from experiences or advice told to them by others. Especially unsolicited advice, which this would be.

It occurred to me that I could print out some of my favorite blog posts, and leave them in a folder for my nieces to read after I die. I don’t know whether or not they read my blog on a regular basis, but I suspect not. Either way, there are a few good ones in there from which they might learn something.

Then, I thought, maybe I could just write down a list of things I feel like I did right in my life. There are too many possibilities to try to anticipate what they might encounter and therefore what mistakes to avoid, but maybe some information about what I did right might be instructive.

So, here is a list of the top 10 things I feel like I’ve done right:

1. Married John Barnes

There is no contest for putting this decision at the top of my list. Having him in my life simply makes my life better. I might not have done it, but my father, alav hashalom, told me to marry a person I wanted to spend a lot of time with, and he was right. There’s nobody I’d rather spend time with than my husband.


2. Divorced my first husband

Number one above couldn’t have happened without this one happening first. My first husband was emotionally abusive, and he refused to try to learn how to stop. Staying with him would have meant destroying who I really am inside.


3. Promised myself not to allow fear to rule my life any more

When you spend 10 years with an abuser, you spend an awful lot of time in fear that if you make one wrong step, it might lead to an explosion. Eventually, you realize your fear is running your life. Now when I’m afraid, instead of running away, I walk toward my fear. And every single time I do so, I’m glad I did.


4. Joined my synagogue’s chevra kadisha

I used to be afraid of anything that had to do with death. Because of number three above, I knew that meant I had to get closer to death. The more I learn about death and dying, the more time I spend around people who are dead, dying, or in mourning, the more comfortable I get with it, and with the thought of my own death. I highly recommend it.


5. Didn’t give up on my first marriage too soon

Even though we’d lived together for five years before getting married, and even though I realized on my honeymoon that marrying him had been a mistake, I still spent the next five years trying to make the marriage work. If I hadn’t done everything in my power to try to make it work, I would have spent the rest of my life wondering whether I’d given up too soon. As it stands, that isn’t a thought that merits consideration.


6. Started greeting people coming to services at my synagogue

It’s awkward to stand around by yourself before services when you don’t know anyone. I had just read Ron Wolfson’s book “The Spirituality of Welcoming,” so I decided one day to stand in front of the synagogue entrance and to greet people as they came in. It’s amazing the doors that opened for me after I made that one simple decision.


7. Went to the mikvah

Every Jewish person should do this at least once. Open yourself up to this ancient Jewish ritual. It’s amazing.


8. Lived with cats

I’ve lived with cats most of my life. They make me smile every day. If you’re ever feeling too full of yourself, a cat will always be happy to remind you that you’re not as special as you think. But if you’re upset or crying, they will always be there to remind you that you’re not alone.


9. Participated in a long term medical study

For over 25 years, I’ve been part of a long term study regarding heart disease. I just started participating in a long term study regarding cancer. Everyone wants to help make the world a better place. If a few hours of my time and a few vials of blood every few years will help to find the causes of, or the cure to, any ailment, then I feel I owe that to future generations.


10. Learned to play the clarinet

Being in band helped to ease me into my new school after we moved from one end of the state to the other when I was between 6th and 7th grade. It gave me a great group to belong to in high school. It helped me to appreciate music in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. And it helped my not-yet-husband to find me again, when someone in the adult band I was playing in told him I was getting a divorce. Your results may vary.

"Like” the Religious and Reform Facebook page to see additional photos and behind-the-scenes comments, and follow me on Twitter.

Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.




Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

Read more.